Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Consolation and Desolation

“…during the time of consolation, prepare for suffering.”

This is a line from the novena to St. Joseph that we do every year. The first time we said it, Marie, Kathleen and I paused there. Whoa, really? The question is: how do you do that?

A few weeks ago at a planning meeting for St. Anthony’s youth group, we were talking about preparation. And in answer to the question “What is the best way to prepare for anything?” I said prayer. Prayer is the best preparation for anything because it is connecting yourself to the Meaning of everything. Without prayer you cannot be prepared because you have not been in contact with the One who sends you whatever you have received- be it “good” or “bad”.

I think of friends who do not have faith; how when something truly wonderful happens to them, they do not know what to do with it. One of them said to me, “I tried to write it down but I just couldn’t capture it at all.” When I said that seemed right because there’s something in joy that is not transferable (without saying “it’s the Holy Spirit”) she just looked puzzled. Not knowing Who to thank for a great gift is almost worse than not understanding why you are sent the gift of suffering.

Contrariwise, I have friends who are undergoing a tremendous trial of suffering. Were they prepared for this? No way, not in the sense that people usually mean that. It’s not as if they had studied cancer, nursing, or medicine, and they aren’t even georgraphically close to their families for support. But they were prepared in the only way that matters in the end: by faith and love in prayer.

So what are consolation and desolation? The definitions of these words don’t capture them for me, and I am sure that everyone experiences them differently. I have discovered that, for me, it’s really easy to tell when I’m in consolation, and I’m totally oblivious when I’m in desolation. (Hence I am writing this in what I’d call consolation) What I mean by that is that when I’m in desolation, I forget that such a thing as consolation even exists and that I have ever felt it. I accept desolation as “the way things always are.” It happens every time; I forget the past joy almost entirely. I think that I’ll have to make a habit of prayer-writing a LOT in consolation so that I can go back and read it later, remembering this experience. Preparing for the dull suffering of desolation.


Desolation: If I have to listen to one more thing about God I think I’m going to scream. (I wish I was joking)

Consolation: Why would anyone want to talk about anything but God? I only want to talk about Jesus all day! What else matters? Can we talk about ideas versus experience?

Desolation: Just get through today.

Consolation: Isn’t it an amazing day? Don’t you think? Have you seen the clouds? They’re awesome!

Desolation: At least I’ll get to mass and He’ll get me through the rest of the day, even if the chapel is ugly, the homily is boring and the music is awful. At least the Lord is there.

Consolation: I can’t wait for Mass! I love everything about this chapel. I love these priests, they’re precious, and I love the quirky sister who does the music. Thank you Lord!

Desolation: Decorate the church? I don’t really want to decorate, thanks.

Consolation: Oh my gosh! What cute little ribbons! Are we putting 1000 of them on this one tree? Awesome!! It’s going to look beeeautiful!!! Oh look at the Nativity! The sheep! They’re baa-ing!! CUTENESS!

Desolation: I don’t really feel like cooking tonight, what do I have in the cupboard?... peanut butter and bread? Perfect, works fine.

Consolation: And then, I’ll make a whole chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy and stuffing and green beans and when it’s done I’ll make it into a soup by cooking all day until it falls off the bones just like my mom always does. And then I want to bake cookies for the neighbors.

You get the idea. Most things I have read about these two states focus strictly on the experience in prayer- dryness or whatever else- but I find that for me it’s more the constant state throughout the day. Maybe there is another term for that, I do not know.

Does anyone else relate to this?


~m2~ said...

i find i oftentimes experience what you said at the very end: ...but I find that for me it’s more the constant state throughout the day.

vacillating between both highs and lows, in a constant struggle with a particular thing or praising God for His incredible faithfulness during my time of trial. usually within a minute of each thought.

good post (again)!

+ Light + said...

Earthie! I praise God for you and your gift of tremendous insight and ability to articulate it!! First of all, I greatly loved the 'substantial' Wretched Advent post - though I enjoy everything & anything you post! - thank you. And then this edification on Consolation and Desolation so hit home! Yes! I can totally relate and know that you are speaking the Truth! as ~m2~ also assents, I feel the reality (whether C or D)throughout my day, permeating my every activity and outlook.
I've KNOWN that I've been in a prayer slump the last few weeks, but it didn't dawn on me until reading your examples how much I was currently experiencing the depravity of Desolation and ho-hum attitude. All I could tell was that my phenomenology was different and not as joyous (I too was even forgetting the previous Consolation I had been so blest with!), and that I needed to get my prayer life back on track. 'Cuz I'm not even facing serious suffering right now - what would I do if the wood were dry!!? Thank you for the reminder and inspiration. It was such reinforcement to read of your experience and corresponding understanding as well! Yaaayy Holy Spirit!!!
And here's a related quote: "Pray when you're well; you cannot pray when you're ill." (if I recorded it correctly) - attributed to Cardinal Bernadine, dying of prostate cancer.
Praise God for His endless Mercy and Love!